How to Deal with Controlling People?

A controlling person can be a friend, a family member, or a colleague from work. They may impose control from simple tasks to anything in your life. No one wants to be around one for too long!

So how do you tell them to stop?

6 experts share their insights on how to deal with controlling people.

Read their thoughts below.

Dr. Lori Whatley

Dr.Lori Whatley

Clinical Psychologist | Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

The very best way to deal with controlling people is through boundaries

Boundaries can be like high fences. They keep toxic behavior out and help others understand where you begin and they end. Setting boundaries are how we take care of ourselves.

It doesn’t make us unkind or self-absorbed because you respect yourself in this way and want others to do the same. It means you care about yourself and others.

Having good boundaries is the opposite of enabling other controlling behaviors. Setting boundaries have many benefits.

We become more compassionate with greater assertiveness. Our needs are met and we have less anger and resentment. This gives us a feeling of peace as we begin to feel respected by ourselves and others.

Michele Paiva

Michele Paiva

Licensed Psychotherapist | Neuromarketing Strategist | Founder, NeuroRain

Set firm boundaries and, through action, teach the controller how you are to be treated

Controlling people are those who are often insecure, uncomfortable with feelings, those that feel they can’t express themselves, those that feel unworthy or, those who feel alone or all of the above.

In friendship, one aspect to remember is that the controlling person will almost always want you for themselves. Do not confuse this with them actually liking you!

Just because they want you around and at their disposal, does not mean that they respect you.

To handle this, set firm boundaries and, through action, teach the controller how you are to be treated. This goes for families with controllers as well, adding to this, make sure to not take on shame from their guilt trips.

In a romantic relationship, note that many people confuse love with control.

Love feels free and comforting, not clingy or smothering. In romantic relationships, control can sneak in.

While sometimes it’s obvious, many times it can look like a sad or unwell partner, an overworked partner or someone who is passively catering to you, who “misses” you or “needs” your help. They may even have the world thinking that you are controlling because you are trying to set boundaries!

Lastly, control at work is a different ball game. The controlling boss often has some narcissistic qualities as well. They tend to be interested in keeping you a few steps behind them and might even take credit for your work or lay the blame on you for their mistakes.

Related: The Difference Between a Boss and a Leader

They tend to be sneaky and manipulative. Handle them with a glove. Make sure to summarize conversations or meetings via text or email to keep a “paper trail” with them.

Watch manipulations. Keep boundaries. Don’t let them “befriend” you or, flirt with you. Treat them like you would a narcissist also, and cut their emotional supply. Be emotionally distant but civil.

Lleuella Morris, BSc., BA

Lleuella Morris

Creator | Managing Director, AMZ Consulting Company Limited | Blogger, The Art Of Growth and Of Everything

Confront the individual in a calm but assertive manner

People perceive controlling behavior in different ways. What is deemed controlling for one person, can be welcome by another.

Being in control of a situation, a group of people in crisis, your emotions, or your life would hardly be condemned as controlling behavior would it? In fact, it is acceptable social behavior.

Dominant people, in particular, like to be in control. It is both a manifestation of their natural leadership skills and a weakness of the personality type. Sooner or later they will exercise undue “control” over a person or situation that imposes in some way on the autonomy, freedom or wellbeing of that person, discomfiting them.

Yet controlling behavior is not an issue of freedom as it is an issue of power and autonomy. The controller perceives he/she has no power and seeks to gain it by stealing the power of the controlled.

Where it is not a direct imposition on your constitutional rights and freedom, in our interpersonal relationships it is most often expressed as a restriction of your personal autonomy in an undue or unnecessary way.

Ask yourself: is this necessary? Is this the norm? and does it create discomfort in me?

I was once part of a service team of 5 persons tasked with the responsibility of putting on weekly programs according to a simple pre-set program format. I noticed when it was my week, the supervisor stood over me and attempted to direct every step of my program. I was not pleased with this controlling behavior.

Later, I confronted her and gently asked that she didn’t micromanage me like that. She quickly justified it by saying that it was her responsibility to ensure that the program objectives are achieved.

Of course, this was no excuse for not giving me the autonomy and trust I needed to execute such a simple program with my own creative content.

Closely linked to controlling behavior are the related issues of manipulation and micromanaging, which people often complain about.

The thing is, controlling behavior is never about you. It is always about the person performing the behaviour.

So what’s the best way to deal with controlling behavior?

  1. Confront the individual in a calm but assertive manner being clear about what the behavior is, and how you prefer he or she relate with you.
  2. Set healthy boundaries and determine what you would and wouldn’t tolerate.
  3. Always, always, be prepared to walk away from any situation that is not respectful of you. In my story, I eventually exited the committee.

Leilani Jeanette Salgado

Leilani Jeanette Salgado

Co-Founder, Way of Vida

Whether it be dealing with a control freak or realizing you’re being overly controlling yourself, coming up with solutions for mutual respect and learning how to handle the situation is important, especially if it’s with people you are constantly surrounded by.

Develop and establish a “go with the flow” type of attitude

If you are the control freak, approaching any project with this mentality will help offset that need to have everything done your way, and if you are dealing with a controlling person, developing this mentality will help not let things get under your skin so much because you will be less resistant.

Of course, this isn’t to say to get pushed around either, but things are able to fall into place easier if you just let things be.

Be adaptable and open to new ideas

Let others voices be heard and don’t drown them out with your perspective only, beautiful things happen when minds collaborate.

Also, being able to understand the perspective of another person lets them know that you sympathize with them and that it truly isn’t all about “their way” or “your way”.

By letting them know that you’re open to their ideas as long as their open to your ideas and the way you do things, you level out the field so that nobody is being controlled by anybody.

Embrace differences

Instead of wanting everything done your way, take into consideration the creative process of the other person and his/her input.

Realize that everybody has their own way of doing things and their own style

If somebody is being too bossy with you, let them know that you have your own style and that you would be happy to reach a mutual agreement as long as it doesn’t sacrifice your individuality.

This also works for the person who is being bossy themselves; often times being controlling can come as second nature to us because we may really want something to look a certain way or be a certain way, and while having a strong vision is a powerful characteristic, not letting the uniqueness of the other person shine through can really affect the total outcome in a negative way, not to mention, it will also cause resentment.

Remember, having diversity is a good thing and doing everything just how one person wants it, will only reflect what that one person likes; it excludes everybody else and it is not something that is truly representational of all parties involved.

Treat everybody with respect and integrity and embrace their individuality and expect the same treatment in return

If somebody is being controlling, it’s probably because they themselves feel overwhelmed and they are loading those feelings onto you!

Being controlling is a negative action caused by a negative feeling. If something is causing you to feel this way, genuinely ask for help from others to find healthy ways to cope with those negative emotions.

Don’t tell or order someone to do anything, asking is always the way to go. Keep in mind that people are equal and that input, values, and respect should be mutual and equal.

Realize that not all the ideas that get thrown out are going to be liked & that’s fine

However, that doesn’t give anybody the right to be rude about it. Hear each other out and COMPROMISE. It’s not always all about what one person wants.

Letting go of being a control freak, means letting go of feeling the weight on your shoulders for the “need to do everything”.

If somebody is controlling your life, calm down their control mannerisms by letting them know “I got this”. The empowering phrase lets you regain control of the situation and assures the other person you know what you are doing.

This also lets the other person know that they can relax and that they don’t have to be on top of you. Work with each other and don’t try to make the other person adapt to you but instead cooperate with each other.

Truly work as a team, there’s a certain fundamental understanding that whatever is trying to get accomplished will not progress or be successful if fighting with someone, in terms of micromanaging, is involved.

Take time to be alone

If you’re being controlling, sometimes your frustration can also stem from an inner desire or need to be alone. It can be for the mere and simple fact that when you are alone you feel more focused without outer distractions.

So an issue with being too controlling has nothing to do with others but more to do with yourself. Taking time to be alone also works for the person being controlled, as you don’t have to listen to outside judgment while you ponder on important decisions.

It’s always a good idea to figure out where the issue stems from. If you were being controlling, apologize and always work to be a better person.

Don’t go in with the same attitude and mentality because you will get the same results. Be positive and change will come/happen if you really want it to.

If you feel yourself about to attack the other person or if you are feeling annoyed, don’t explode.

Take a moment to pause and think about “what is making me feel this way?” the key here is not to look for external factors or reasons, but to analyze your own behavior. Read these guidelines as advice, to reset your priorities and clear your mind.

Uma Alexandra Beepat

Uma Alexandra Beepat

Owner, Lotus Wellness Center

You are the creator of your own life experience so anyone who comes in trying to tell you what to do, lose them quickly from your life!

If you, unfortunately, can’t lose them because they are your mother or best friend, then the next best step is to create boundaries and communicate them.

I had a friend who demanded we take a girls trip with some other women and I was not interested. I was in a relationship at the time that I enjoyed being in and my travels were with him.

I told her that I would love to do the trip with her and her significant other but that’s it. She fought me on it and even tried to attack my personality by hinting at the idea I might be codependent and can’t do without my partner.

Whatever! Her opinion is just that, an opinion. You can’t let others’ opinions affect you especially if you know the truth otherwise.

I stood my ground despite her teasing, taunting and eventual biting remarks that came my way. I was open to losing the friendship over this matter because I didn’t like the idea of being told what to do.

The interesting thing about this is by me speaking up, it allowed other women to speak up and express their interest in bringing their partners too.

This infuriated her even more and so the trip never happened. Ever since then, she never approached me for a girls trip again and there is a definite line in the sand drawn so to speak, that she has never stepped over again.

Adam Cole

Adam Cole

Musician | Author

Controlling people are also often highly effective people who give gifts to those that are around them.

But it’s a little like swimming near a waterfall. How close can you get before you get sucked into a dangerous or perilous situation?

Recognizing that someone is a controlling person is essential.

Know what you’re dealing with. Then you can make a good decision about how to deal.

It’s possible to create relationships with difficult people. Those relationships can benefit both of you. In that situation, it’s essential to set the boundaries for yourself very clearly, especially if the other person won’t.

When is the waterfall first pulling you? Can you sense the danger before you get in trouble? Are you prepared to abandon the benefits of being with that person while there’s still a way back?

If you can’t be around someone like this without losing yourself, you shouldn’t be around them at all. Let the attractive benefits go. You may have to work a little harder, but you can find those benefits with someone else.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I maintain my self-esteem when dealing with a controlling person?

It is essential to remember that your worth is not determined by the opinions or actions of a controlling person. Recognize that their behavior is due to their insecurities or issues, not your shortcomings.

Focus on self-care, nurturing your emotional well-being, and interacting with supportive people who value and respect you. In addition, activities that boost your self-confidence can help you maintain healthy self-esteem.

What if the controlling person is a family member or someone I can not avoid?

Dealing with controlling behavior from a family member or someone you can not avoid can be challenging. Focus on establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries, even in these close relationships.

Communicate your needs and concerns, and be prepared to stand your ground when necessary. If the situation overwhelms your mental health, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor for advice and coping strategies.

How can I determine if a controlling person’s behavior may escalate to abuse?

Pay close attention to how the person’s behavior affects you emotionally and physically. If the person’s controlling behavior makes you feel constantly belittled, isolated, or scared, it may escalate to abuse.

Other warning signs of abusive behavior include constant put-downs, excessive jealousy, attempts to isolate you from friends or family, and physical or sexual aggression. If you suspect the behavior has become abusive, seek help immediately from a trusted friend, family member, or professional.

How can I distinguish between controlling behavior and genuine concern?

Distinguishing between controlling behavior and genuine concern can be tricky, as the two may seem similar at first glance. A real concern is usually expressed with empathy and respect for the other person’s feelings and autonomy.

Conversely, controlling behavior is often associated with manipulation, coercion, and a lack of respect for personal boundaries. Pay attention to the intentions behind the person’s actions and how they make you feel to determine if their behavior is based on control or genuine concern.

What should I do if setting boundaries and communicating my feelings does not improve the situation?

If setting boundaries and expressing your feelings does not result in a positive change in the controlling person’s behavior, you may need to consider more drastic measures. Assess the importance of the relationship and whether it is worth maintaining despite the controlling behavior.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to distance yourself from the person or end the relationship to protect your well-being. Seek support from friends, relatives, or a mental health professional to help you cope with this difficult decision and the emotions involved.

Can codependent relationships contribute to controlling behavior?

Yes, codependent relationships can contribute to controlling behaviors. In a codependent relationship, one person may become overly reliant on the other for emotional support, decision-making, or validation, resulting in an imbalance of power.

This dynamic can foster controlling behaviors. The codependent person may seek to manipulate or dominate the other to maintain their sense of control or stability. Recognizing and addressing codependency in relationships is essential to build a healthier dynamic and preventing controlling behavior from taking root.

How can I prevent myself from becoming a controlling person?

To avoid developing controlling behavior, focus on self-awareness and personal growth. Identify patterns of your behavior that might indicate a need for control and examine the underlying reasons for these tendencies.

Practice active listening, empathy, and respect for others’ boundaries and autonomy. Developing emotional intelligence, effective communication skills, and seeking feedback from trusted friends or family members can also help you avoid becoming a controlling person.

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